Once again, the Experimental Aircraft Association in July pulled off another great AirVenture fly-in at its home in Oshkosh, Wis. This years event had a little of everything, including torrential rain the Friday evening before Mondays opening day, nighttime air shows and lots of airplanes of every shape, size and purpose. Perhaps because the pre-show rain knocked everyone off-kilter-followed by mid-week heat-the overall event seemed to need more cowbell, but it definitely was worthwhile checking out all the new stuff and checking in with long-time friends.
Sitting around and talking with pilot friends, you hear nonstop talk about aircraft and equipment. Eventually, someone always brings up ATC in conversation. Pilots argue among themselves more intensely than Socrates debating Plato. One question that new and even veteran pilots bring up is why, when they file an IFR flight plan, that their clearance is usually never as filed but includes a route change of some sort.
In the decade-plus since the coming ADS-B mandate became a thing for U.S. aviation, those whose operations will be affected have fallen mainly into two camps: early adopters and those who put it off as long as possible. In this binary world, I freely admit to being something of an early adopter. And despite some cool-and less expensive-new gear on the market, Im happy with my choice to equip with ADS-B in 2016. Its likely those who have taken a wait-and-see attitude also are happy.
The only time Ive performed what I consider to have been a for-real high-altitude takeoff, it went fine. I was at Albuquerque, N.M.s Double Eagle II airport, elevation some 5800 feet. It wasnt the middle of summer, but it was a warm, sunny fall afternoon. I dont recall which runway I used, but it offered more than enough length for my Debonair, which carried only me, some gear and full fuel. As Id been trained, I leaned the engine before the takeoff and let the airplane fly itself off the runway. I handled it gently until gaining enough airspeed to establish a proper climb and I had some altitude.
By the time you read this, Ill be getting my Debonair out of its annual inspection. Its been a lengthy one, in part because of some items I had deferred from previous inspections and in part because the airplane was new to the shop doing the work. Basically, I decided it was time to catch up on a few wear-and-tear items that pop up with any kind of machine, from a Roomba vacuum cleaner to a personal airplane.
One way to deal with this torrent of poorly presented information is to call Flight Service, ask for an abbreviated briefing and query the briefer about Notams for your proposed flight, and especially if theres any new FDC Notam affecting the airspace or procedures you anticipate. Listen to the briefer; there might be some nuggets you didnt know about. And at least youll be on the record when FAAs enforcement apparatus asks you about a TFR bust. -J.B.
I like to fly at night. The air generally is smoother, theres less traffic, the ATC frequencies are not as busy and ground illumination, the moon and the stars can compete in one of the best light shows youll ever see. Of course, humans were never meant to fly in the first place, and we often have difficulty actually seeing things at night. So we need to be mindful of night flyings risks and adopt procedures or limitations mitigating them.
Squirreled away in a shoe box somewhere, I have a 3 x 5 print (remember those?) of my then-infant son bundled into the back seat of a Cessna 172. It was his first flight, and Im proud to have been the pilot to initiate him, even though he doesnt remember it. I dont have a formal record, but both he and my slightly younger daughter have since logged enough time as my passengers to easily meet the minimum total time required for a private certificate. But before that first flight, his mother and I researched what steps we could take to make it successful.
All other things being equal, one of the benefits of a primary flight display (PFD, which presents flight instrumentation on an electronic panel) is its use of a solid-state attitude and heading reference system, sometimes known as an AHARS. By using an AHARS to determine which side is up and in which direction the airplane is pointed, the vacuum-driven system is avoided and usually only an electrical system failure or failure of the display itself can eliminate the flight instruments. (Certification rules require backup flight instruments when a PFD is present but not when steam gauges are energized by a vacuum pump.)
As the airplane was vectored to avoid cells and areas of heavy precipitation, the controller queried the pilot about his inability to maintain assigned headings. The pilot reported that his autopilot had kicked off and that the winds are really weird up here. At about 1310, the airplane slowed to about 70 knots groundspeed on a northeasterly heading before it began an accelerating 90-degree right turn to the south. By 1313, the controller again asked, ...appears you've turned back to the northwest and...are you going to turn back eastbound? The pilot replied, I don't know what's going on up here. I'm working on instruments…acting really goofy here. Shortly thereafter, the airplane turned and descended from a northerly heading sharply to its right. The radar track tightened to the right as the target rapidly descended, then disappeared at about 1315 in an area that depicted heavy precipitation.
Flying IFR can get deceptively routine. Most of the time, it means taking off, climbing, cruising, descending, and an approach and landing-all along well-defined routes and usually in VMC. The majority of IFR pilots tend to fly the same routes and procedures again and again, to the point they might memorize communications frequencies and even approach minimums. Its possible to be extremely proficient at the type of flying you usually do while letting other skills atrophy.
The accident occurred nine years almost to the day after an 18,600-hour airline transport pilot flew a Beech Baron into the lake just after departing from the same airport on a nighttime positioning flight. In the case of the Citation, the Board surmised that due to the pilots recent transition from a Citation Mustang with a different panel layout, he might have been unaware that hed never engaged the autopilot as hed presumably intended. On the night of the Baron accident, ceilings were 25,000 feet and visibility unrestricted, but the moon and city lights were behind the pilot once he turned north over the lake.